Press release

Davey: UK shale gas development will not be at expense of climate change targets

Edward Davey today made the case for the safe and responsible exploration of shale gas in the UK, in line with UK’s climate change targets.

Secretary of State, Edward Davey, today made the case for the safe and responsible exploration of shale gas in the UK, in line with the UK’s climate change targets. In a speech to the Royal Society, Davey said that if shale gas could be developed in an economically viable and environmentally friendly way, it would benefit the UK - increasing energy security, providing more jobs and tax revenues.

Davey was responding to the findings of a new report which estimates that the carbon footprint of UK produced shale gas would likely be significantly less than coal and also lower than imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

The report by DECC Chief Scientific Advisor Professor David Mackay FRS and Dr Timothy Stone, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State, assesses the potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the production of shale gas in the UK and the compatibility of such emissions with the UK’s legislated climate change targets.

With the right safeguards in place, the report concludes, the net effect on GHG emissions from shale gas production in the UK will be relatively small. In order to ensure that global cumulative GHG emissions to the atmosphere do not increase, worldwide shale gas production needs to be accompanied by additional international emissions-reduction efforts, including a global deal on emissions reductions and additional effort to develop low-carbon technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage, (CCS).

Speaking at the Royal Society, Secretary of State, Edward Davey said:

On the need for Shale Gas exploration:

“Gas, as the cleanest fossil fuel, is part of the answer to climate change, as a bridge in our transition to a green future, especially in our move away from coal.

“We have to face it: North Sea gas production is falling and we are become increasingly reliant on gas imports. So UK shale gas could increase our energy security by cutting those imports.

“Home-grown gas, just like home-grown renewables and new nuclear, also provides jobs for our people and tax revenues for our society.

“Nobody can say, for sure, how much onshore UK shale gas resource exists or how much of it can be commercially extracted, so we can’t bank on shale gas to solve all our energy challenges, today or this decade.

“We must make sure that the rigorous regulation we are putting in place is followed to the letter, to protect the local environment. We must pursue vigorously the development and deployment of technologies that will reduce emissions to protect the planet.”

On the Mackay/Stone Report published today:

“This report shows that the continued use of gas is perfectly consistent with our carbon budgets over the next couple of decades. If shale gas production does reach significant levels we will need to make extra efforts in other areas. Because by on-shoring production we will be on-shoring the emissions as well. And, as this report recommends, we will still need to put in place a range of techniques to reduce emissions.

“I strongly welcome these very sensible recommendations and we will be responding positively and in detail shortly. The report from Professor MacKay and Dr Stone puts another piece of the puzzle in place.

“It should help reassure environmentalists like myself, that we can safely pursue UK shale gas production and meet our national emissions reductions targets designed to help tackle climate change.

“Let me be clear – here at home we must not and will not allow shale gas production to compromise our focus on boosting renewables, nuclear and other low carbon technologies.

“UK shale gas production must not be at the expense of our wider environmental aims – indeed, if done properly, it will support them. I am determined to make that happen.”

DECC Chief Scientific Advisor Professor David Mackay said:

“Our study indicates that shale gas, if properly regulated, is likely to have a greenhouse gas footprint no worse than the other fossil fuels that society currently depends on.

“To ensure that shale gas exploitation doesn’t increase cumulative greenhouse gas emissions it is crucial that society maintains efforts to drive down the costs of low- carbon technologies, including carbon capture and storage.”

Dr Tim Stone said:

“Shale gas could be a very valuable asset for the UK both in terms of energy and wider petrochemical uses. It is important that in exploiting this asset we do so responsibly and build public trust.

“The debate in the UK around shale gas needs to be based on facts and not strenuous assertions. This report should help provide some clarity around some of the facts of shale gas.

“It sets out part of the responsible approach to its exploitation from a greenhouse gas perspective and consistent with government’s commitment to protect the wider long-term public interest.”

Shale gas is an ‘unconventional’ gas. Its composition is essentially the same as conventional gas but it requires extensive fracturing of the source rocks to extract it. Industry is exploring the amount of shale gas that might be safely and economically extracted in the UK, but as yet, no companies have permission to exploit shale gas resources through fracking.

One study of the potential shale resources available has been conducted by the British Geological Survey for the Bowland Basin area in the North of England. This suggests that the resource is likely to be considerable (mid-point estimate 1,300 trillion cubic feet). However, without exploration, it is not yet known how much of this gas could be safely, technically or economically extracted.

Notes for Editors

  1. Secretary of State Edward Davey’s speech to the Royal Society

  2. Read the report: ‘Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use’, 9 September 2013

  3. Find out more about shale gas from the About Shale Gas Q&A on GOV.UK website

  4. Royal Society report on shale gas extraction, June 2012:

  5. David MacKay is the Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC). In addition to his role at DECC, David is Regius Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, and Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge.

  6. Dr Tim Stone was the Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State responsible for energy from 2007. During this time he served five successive Secretaries of State. He holds two visiting Professorships at University College London and is a non-executive member of the board of the European Investment Bank.

  7. The UK is proceeding apace with developing CCS at scale through its world-leading £1 billion CCS competition, with two preferred bidders identified, one of which is planning to fit CCS to a gas power station.

  8. Infographics: What is shale gas and fracking? and the traffic light monitoring system

‘Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use’, Professor David JC MacKay FRS & Dr Timothy J Stone CBE:

Executive Summary – Conclusions and Recommendations

Conclusions:

Carbon footprint

a. If adequately regulated, local GHG emissions from shale gas operations should represent only a small proportion of the total carbon footprint of shale gas, which is likely to be dominated by CO2 emissions associated with its combustion.

b. Any local GHG emissions from shale gas operations would fall within the nontraded sector of the UK’s carbon budgets. If the carbon budgets impose a binding constraint, any increase in emissions associated with domestic shale gas operations would have to be offset by emissions cuts elsewhere in the economy.

c. The carbon footprint (emissions intensity) of shale gas extraction and use is likely to be in the range 200 – 253 g CO2e per kWh of chemical energy, which makes shale gas’s overall carbon footprint comparable to gas extracted from conventional sources (199 – 207 g CO2e/kWh(th)), and lower than the carbon footprint of Liquefied Natural Gas (233 - 270g CO2e/kWh(th)). When shale gas is used for electricity generation, its carbon footprint is likely to be in the range 423 – 535 g CO2e/kWh(e), which is significantly lower than the carbon footprint of coal, 837 – 1130 g CO2e/kWh(e).

Impact on national GHG emissions rates and cumulative emissions

d. If shale gas extraction is demonstrated by industry to be economic in the UK, some of the UK’s reserve may be used nationally. Because the UK is well connected to the Western European gas market, the effect of UK shale gas production on gas prices is likely to be small, and the principal effect of UK shale gas production and use will be that it displaces imported LNG, or possibly piped gas from outside Europe. The net effect on total UK GHG emissions rates is likely to be small.

e. The short-term and long-term effects of shale gas exploitation in the UK on global emissions rates are complex to predict and depend strongly on global climate policies. The short-term effect of shale gas use on global emissions depends on:

  • the price of the shale gas relative to the prices of LNG imports to the
  • European market and coal;
  • the price elasticities of demand and supply of gas and coal;
  • the transport costs of gas and coal; and
  • the substitutability of gas and coal in different regional markets.

f. Long term global temperature rises are determined not by the rates of emissions but by cumulative global emissions of carbon over all time. The production of shale gas could increase global cumulative GHG emissions if the fossil fuels displaced by shale gas are used elsewhere. This potential issue is not specific to shale gas and would apply to the exploitation of any new fossil fuel reserve.

g. The potential increase in cumulative emissions could be counteracted if equivalent and additional emissions-reduction measures are made somewhere in the world. Such measures are well established in the scientific and policy literature and include: carbon capture and storage; carbon offsetting through additional reforestation or negative emissions technologies that reduce CO2 concentrations; and other measures that would lead to fossil fuel reserves, that would have been developed under business-as-usual, remaining in the ground. The view of the authors is that without global climate policies (of the sort already advocated by the UK) new fossil fuel exploitation is likely to lead to an increase in cumulative GHG emissions and the risk of climate change.

Recommendations

a. In managing fugitive, vented or flared methane throughout the exploration, preproduction and production of shale gas, operators should adopt the principle of reducing emissions to as low a level as reasonably practicable (ALARP). In particular, “reduced emissions completions” (REC) or “green completions” should be adopted at all stages following exploration. Government should discuss with regulators appropriate mandatory requirements to be applied at each stage to ensure that the best technology is implemented in all cases;

b. Shale gas exploration and production in the UK should be accompanied by careful monitoring and inspection of GHG emissions relating to all aspects of exploration, pre production and production, at least until any particular production technique is well understood and documented in the context of UK usage (see Research, below);

c. Thereafter operators should monitor their sites to: (1) ensure early warning of unexpected leakages; and (2) obtain emissions estimates for regulators and government;

d. Shale gas production in the UK should be accompanied by research into development of more effective extraction techniques, such as improved REC and self-healing cements, which minimise wider environmental impacts including whole-life-cycle GHG emissions;

e. Government and industry should actively pursue new techniques to minimise GHG emissions associated with exploration, pre-production and production of shale gas and also reduce the impact on local environment and infrastructure;

f. The shale gas industry should research methods to minimise water demand and vehicle movements, so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on local infrastructure;

g. There should be a detailed scientific research programme of methane measurement, aimed at better understanding and characterising sources and quantities of methane emissions associated with shale gas operations; and

h. This research programme should be independent and managed jointly between government and industry. The research should aim, for example, to reduce uncertainty associated with estimates of local methane emissions from shale gas operations and also to guide the optimisation of regulatory monitoring. The research could also provide information on the effectiveness of operators’ actions to minimise methane emissions.